I am facing my shame and developing self-compassion.

Mourning [Step 12]: Shame is a general term that encompasses all of survivors' negative feelings about themselves. It is also the psychological source of self-sabotage. Unlike guilt, which is the result of feeling bad about what you do in the external world, shame reflects feelings of failure inside, as a person. Shame is experienced as self-blame. You perceive yourself as flawed, inferior, contemptible, no good. Considering how little you probably received as a child, shame, like anger, is a normal feeling. The problem is that you may have too much of it. Shame is the part of you that you can't face because it is so intolerable. In the words of John Bradshaw, "toxic shame" is an "emotion that gets internalized as a state of being."

Adult survivors begin to internalize shame when they identify with parents who abuse them, abandon them and fail to validate them as people. The shame becomes part of a package of self-blame, bad feelings, self-destructive thoughts and self-sabotaging behaviors. During the childhood years this bundle of negative feelings evolves into a major part of the survivor's sense of self. As you go through life, this negative part gets reinforced by other people, external events and even yourself, if you tend to defend against the feelings triggered by the abuse by "turning against (your)self."

The second part of this step involves developing acceptance and self-compassion for who you are, what you have overcome and the efforts you are now making to live a healthier life. It is important that you remember that you developed this self-blaming behavior as the result of being told Ø directly or indirectly Ø that you were somehow bad. In a very real sense, you are not responsible for the initial seeds of self-blame, although you may have aggravated your situation by internalizing your abusers' blame and turning it against yourself. In addition to accepting these self-defeating tendencies, you need to develop compassion for yourself. You certainly weren't responsible for the abuse that occurred to you. You probably couldn't help but turn the blame inwards. You are now making earnest efforts to recover and heal. For all these reasons you need to be kind to yourself, to recognize that you are a valuable person and to start to turn some of your self-loathing into compassion and acceptance.

Considering that shame is probably deeply imbedded in your sense of self, it will take a lot of courageous work to uncover it, examine it and begin to transform it into self-acceptance. But it can be done. By working with your support network and sharing your feelings with other people whom you trust, you can begin to internalize a different, more accepting message about yourself. To continue self-blaming is to do to yourself as an adult what was done to you as a child. You must sever this legacy by changing what you say to yourself, how you treat yourself and how you let others treat you.
© The Norma J. Morris Center, San Francisco, California